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It all started, of course, with the infamous Ancel Keys and his Seven Countries Study, which tracked the fat consumption and heart disease levels of various nations.
For a quick summary of the Ancel Keys debacle to send to friends and family worried about your saturated fat intake (who might not be interested in reading a blog post), check out this quick clip from Fat Head.
Saturated fatty acids (SFAs) are referred to as saturated because all available carbon bonds are tied up with a hydrogen atom. As I detailed in my last big post on cholesterol, total cholesterol doesn’t tell the entire story, and it doesn’t even necessarily indicate risk for cardiovascular disease. Nowadays, most “experts” will agree that total cholesterol isn’t everything; they instead move the goalposts and focus on LDL, or “bad cholesterol,” which is increased by eating saturated fat. Oh, but saturated fat increases triglycerides, they say, which – even I agree – are a good marker for poor heart health. As far as heart disease goes, I still have yet to hear a workable process by which saturated fat contributes to it.
Although he’s softened his stance a bit recently, Loren Cordain still maintains that saturated fat never formed a significant portion of the Paleolithic diet. Cordain himself allows that most (73%) pre-agrarian hunter-gatherers got more than 50% of their calories from animal foods (with some going as high as 70%), and he figures that wild African ruminant fatty acid composition (a basic model for Grok’s game) was similar to that of pasture-raised cattle. The justification for the anti-saturated fat campaign that has raged on for half a century is largely baseless. Ok, Where I’m a little lost is where to monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats come from. However, mammals tend to store spare calories and pack on insulation as saturated fat, so a lot of lard, tallow, etc.
Seriously, google is your friend when it comes down to specific fat balances for a particular food. I recently started a new chiroproactor and when he told me that our saturated fats was what we need to be eating instead of what we hear we should eat I thought he had lost his mind. Rafiki I know avocado and olive oil, along with nuts, have good amounts of monounsaturated fats, but I don’t know the mix of fats or why. I think the true media bias, (and it is bias) against saturated fats is really aimed at hydrogenated oils, which generally have a different C-chain length then the naturally occuring saturated fats.
As far as saturated fats in animals goes, I can tell you from my experience harvesting (and slaughtering) wild game like venison and elk are very lean meats, with saturated fat layered between muscle and organs. They are condemned because the original studies that implicated saturated fats implicated solid fats (which included both saturated fats and synthetic trans fats). Now that we now how horrific a franken-food partially hydrogenized fats are, we should redo many of the studies. It’s actually more likely to be the polyunsaturated oils, the trans fats, the grains, and the sugars that are causing heart disease.
It was named for the seven countries that saw an increase in heart disease cases correspond with increased fat consumption, but it should have been named the Twenty Two Countries Study for all the data he omitted.
As you can see, there is a faint, weak correlation between fat intake and heart disease, but it’s just that: a correlation.


That is, there are no openings for rancidity or spoilage, whereas a polyunsaturated fatty acid containing two or more pairs of double bonds without hydrogen atoms occupying the open space is wide open for oxidation. In fact, when we burn body fat for energy, either through exercise or through dieting, we are quite literally consuming huge amounts of saturated (and monounsaturated) fat.
Well, it all starts with cholesterol, yet another vilified substance that our bodies naturally produce because, well, it’s completely essential to proper bodily function (though if you listen to the experts, our bodies are suicidal entities who can’t be trusted to do the right thing). Just take a look at the graph plotting global total cholesterol versus cardiovascular disease. Eating more saturated fat does seem to increase serum LDL (“bad” cholesterol) in certain cases, but it also increases HDL (“good” cholesterol). Breast, colon, pancreatic – you name the cancer, researchers have probably warned against saturated fat intake as a risk factor for it. He even suggests that because it increases LDL, saturated fat does play some role in cardiovascular disease. I eat a lot of 100% grass-fed steak, and I will tell you: there is a fair amount of fat on certain cuts, including organs. Even if saturated fat does increase (large, fluffy) LDL, it increases protective HDL right along with it, and cardiovascular mortality has never been explicitly demonstrated to increase with saturated fat intake. Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here. Data, I should mention, that demolished his hypothesis of fat intake causing heart disease. It shouldn’t confirm anything except the need to run controlled experiments to directly measure the effects of dietary fat. Elevated cholesterol has long been fingered as a player in cardiovascular disease, and saturated fat has been shown to increase cholesterol levels, so saturated fat is therefore to be avoided.
The layman’s notion of saturated fat literally clogging up the arteries like grease in a drain isn’t taken seriously by researchers anymore (who know it’s really all about inflammation and oxidized LDL), but it’s still the most prevalent explanation for why saturated fat is so bad. But every study that suggests a link between saturated fat and cancer is purely observational. Given the choice between a lean chicken breast and a fatty, crispy thigh, most people instinctively go for the thigh. The result is a deeply ingrained systemic assumption that saturated fat is evil, bad, dangerous, and sinful, a preconceived notion that precludes any meaningful dialogue from taking place. Unfortunately, that correlation was enough to get Keys the front cover of Time and widespread acclaim as the father of dietary science. Roughly half of our cell membrane structure is composed of saturated fat, and saturated animal fats, like butter or fatty organ meats, contain huge amounts of essential fat-soluble vitamins (K2, A, D, among others). Whether you’re burning through your stores of adipose tissue or downing flagons of warm ghee, all that fat goes through the same processes in your body to be converted to energy.
Cordain’s impressive work cataloguing the possible diet of Grok and highlighting the dangers of grains, legumes, and sugars, I believe it’s becoming increasingly clear that he’s got it wrong with his (albeit tempered as of late) condemnation of saturated fat. Social anti-fat conditioning might direct a few of us toward the dry breast, but fatty cuts just taste better.


Plus, when you consider that hunter-gatherers (Grok and modern alike) use the entire animal, especially the fatty organs, it becomes clear that saturated fat was consumed in relatively large amounts by many groups of paleo-era humans. The Finnish Mental Hospital study, which the saturated fat critics tend to hang their hats on, has been discredited for its poor control. Everyone “knows” that saturated fat clogs your arteries – that’s treated as a given – and attempting to even question that assumption gets you lumped in the crazy category. I think even Cordain would agree that Grok would opt for the fatty cuts first; where we differ is in our opinion of Grok’s access to such fatty cuts. Subsequent controlled experiments to measure the effects of saturated fat have been either inconclusive, poorly designed, or completely unsupportive of the saturated fat-is-evil hypothesis, but because the starting point assumes it to be true, those inconclusive or unsupportive results become aberrations while the poorly designed studies become canon. The observational data doesn’t add up, the actual physiological process can’t be explained, and the body seems to prefer saturated fat.
Cordain believes the fatty acid composition of ancient game was mostly monounsaturated, while I doubt it was so clear cut. If you’re interested in more breakdowns of the saturated fat studies, just visit Whole Health Source (or Hyperlipid, or Free the Animal, or any of the many Primal friendly blogs on the interwebs). Thus, talk of the superior cardiovascular health of the Tokelau (with their 50% dietary saturated fat intake) or the Masai (with their diet of meat, blood, and milk) or the Inuit (with their ancestral diet of high-blubber animals) is all disregarded or ignored. As Richard and Tom have said before, losing weight is like eating pure lard, which has nearly the same fatty acid composition as human adipose tissue. According to the WAPF’s Mary Enig and Sally Fallon, the fatty acid composition of wild game available to native Americans varied, with the most prized sources of fat (kidneys) being primarily saturated. If they even deign to listen to the facts, they’ll acknowledge the existence of healthy populations eating tons of saturated fat while muttering something about “genetic adaptation” or “statistical outliers.” It’s all hogwash, and it’s infuriating, especially when there’s so much literature refuting the saturated fat hypothesis.
To vilify saturated fat is to assume that, over the span of our evolution, our bodies have somehow developed a predilection for a deleterious energy source that contributes to cardiovascular disease. It tells us that the Standard American Diet, with its massive amounts of grains, sugar, starches, margarines, vegetable oils, and yes, some red meat and artery-clogging saturated fat, is bad for us. In fact, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, hallowed purveyor of pemmican and admirer of the high-fat Inuit diet, spent considerable time with the northern native Americans and noted that they seemed to “hunt animals selectively.” They would specifically pass on the tender calves and go for the older caribou, the ones with huge slabs of back fat that could be rendered and stored. If you’re interested in more information on these three oft-cited high-saturated fat groups, check out Stephan’s entries on the Tokelau, the Masai, and the Inuit.
The researchers may try to seize on a single aspect of the diet (usually saturated fat), but that only tells us that saturated fat has a bad reputation. These are more modern animals, but they’re still wild, and I don’t see how the large animals being consumed by Grok would have inexplicably been low in saturated fat.



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